Document Type

Fact Sheet


University of Montana Rural Institute

Publication Date



Demography, Population, and Ecology | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Sociology


Defining Rural: The 2005 Merriam-Webster Dictionary simply defines rural as “of or relating to the country, country people or life, or agriculture.” Most people have an idea of what makes an area rural, but the perception of ruralness may not always match the specific definitions used by agencies responsible for counting, analyzing, or distributing community resources. It’s common to use counties as the measurement unit. Counties are categorized as metropolitan or non-metropolitan, with the non-metropolitan counties considered rural. (See Update on the Demography of Rural Disability, Part Two: Non-Metropolitan and Metropolitan for more information.) However, “rural” and “urban” areas are not geographically tied to counties and may cross county or state lines. These areas are measured by population density. While not accounting for economic diversity, this approach more accurately reflects the aerial view of a settled area’s density. To understand rural America in this context, it is important to define four key U.S. Census terms: urban, urbanized area, urban cluster, and rural areas.


community participation and independent living, demography, rural, disability


© 2005 RTC:Rural.

Granting Agency

National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research


Our research is supported by grant #H133B070017-01 from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, U.S. Dept. of Education.

Project Number